Arizona State coach Todd Graham took some flak last season for proclaiming the 2015 team his best in his four seasons at ASU, and for embracing a media-driven idea that the Sun Devils could end up in the College Football Playoff.
Arizona State athletic director Ray Anderson even hinted in a recent radio interview that it was time for Graham to tone down the talk and focus on the walk after the Sun Devils stumbled to a 6-7 record last season.
“One of the things, very frankly, that we’re trying to do better around here is to talk less and deliver more,” Anderson told Fox Sports 910 AM Phoenix. “We’ll be minimum on the bravado, on all the predictions about greatness and just let our play speak for us.”
That may be the message from the athletic department, but Graham said Friday on Day 2 of Pac-12 Media Day in Los Angeles that he has no plans to alter his approach.
“I can tell you that I’m going to be genuinely who I am,” Graham said. “Part of my philosophy is that my players watch this and they hear me, and I believe in them. I try to tell people what I really think. I think sometimes people get tired of the same ole answers, and I just try to be genuinely who I am. I’m proud of what we’ve done in the four years that I’ve been there, and I’m proud of the foundation we’ve laid.”
When it was noted that many around the program have also vowed to tone down the talk, including some of his players, Graham brushed it off.
“I didn’t make anything of it,” he said. “From the time you walk in the door, if you walk down the hallway, our goals are written on the wall. Number one, we want to produce men of character that know how to live a championship life, and I think it’s something that I’m proud of the progress we’ve made there. Number two, we want to graduate 100 percent of our players. I think we’ve made progress there, the four best years academically, and then obviously we want to be Pac-12 champions, and then it says Rose Bowl champions, and then it says national champions. Why would you have any other goal?”
Anderson made it clear that he supports Graham, but the two may not be on the same page when it comes to approach.
“I think we’ve established that he is a very strong coach that can have good results and that promotion doesn’t necessarily mean having to be a little more bravado oriented than maybe other coaches,” Anderson said. “It’s also a matter, very frankly, of growing and maturing in how you view your leadership and I think we’ve seen real positives in that regard.”
Anderson dismissed the idea that he drew a line that Graham cannot cross.
“You might call it a fine line,” he said. “We call it just being real self-aware and honest with each other with regard to how we’d like to see ourselves portrayed and interpreted.”
In some respects, Graham should be under less pressure this season. The Sun Devils will have an inexperienced quarterback taking over, an inexperienced offensive line and a revamped secondary. Expectations will be much lower than at any point since his first season in Tempe.
ASU was picked to finish fifth in the Pac-12 preseason media poll released this week. Graham didn’t put much stock in the predictions, but he did focus on a simpler goal that escaped the Sun Devils last season when Graham was setting grander goals.
“I think the highest we’ve ever been picked was second… or third? It doesn’t bother me,” he said. “I can tell you in this league if you polled the coaches, any team in this league can beat any team on any given Saturday. Just look at last year; we had five games that we were winning with four minutes left in the game. So you have to win the close games. You’re going to have a close game every week in this conference.”